1. Cultivate stability with lots of love, consistent discipline, and patience. Whether it's the death of a loved one, divorce of parents, a tragedy like 9/11, the war in Iraq, or continued terrorist threats, a stable home environment and honest talks with your kids can make all the difference. In the face of high stress or trauma, keep your home life as "normal" as possible. Let your kids know you love them and that you are always there for them. Minimize change as much as you can. Continue with usual bonding activities like reading at bedtime. Consider adding some pleasant surprises like your child's favorite dinner or a meal out at a kid-fun restaurant. Don't be tempted to let house rules slide into chaos in troubled times. Practice being consistent in your discipline, being authoritative -- not authoritarian -- yet flexible and understanding.
2. Consider carefully the imagery your children are exposed to. Mimi Doe, author of 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting (HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), suggests limiting TV images of tragedy, especially for young ones. Instead, turn to less-intrusive media like radio. When kids are upset, encourage them to dwell on positive images and engage in comforting and familiar rituals. You might even begin some new traditions. To memorialize the loss of life on 9/11 without delving into the disturbing imagery, you might light seven candles: one for each of the four planes, two for the Twin towers, and one for the Pentagon. This ritual might lead you into a family discussion about future hope and the meaning of life, or another meaning significant to your family.
3. Answer grief and trauma with a secure foundation at home. Children experience grief whenever they suffer a significant loss. It could be anything from losing a parent at the World Trade Center to losing a friend who moves away. And just like adults, children go through the stages of denial, anger, guilt, and acceptance. Dr. Salomon Grimberg, a Dallas child psychiatrist, reminds parents that providing a sense of security at home serves children well during times of trauma. "The growth and development of children needs to take place in an ambience of security," Grimberg says. "Only security will, more likely than not, provide an internal sense of stability that children will carry within them the rest of their lives." Make time to be with your child. Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning, sit down to cereal together and enjoy a chat over breakfast. Ask about your child's upcoming day and encourage her to talk freely. Show real interest in your child's life and the way she is reacting to a stressful situation. Above all, let your child know how much you love him. To find more useful information about helping kids cope with trauma, check out the U.S. Department of Education's parental resources on the Web.
4. Talk as a family and listen to your kids. Communication is more important than ever in difficult times. Grimberg points out that children need to be provided with an understanding that is appropriate for their level of development. The younger the child, the simpler the explanation. "In the best of circumstances, children have parents whom they trust and who they approach when they feel uneasy," he says. Be available to answer all questions your child asks, or gently draw out information when your child seems disturbed by something. Let your child express fears and worries. And really listen. When responding, author Doe emphasizes the importance of being unbiased and reassuring. Your answers are an opportunity to model tolerance and courage and to show that you are always there for your child. Demonstrating integrity when your children turn to you for guidance will teach your kids good character. It will also help them feel secure that they can turn to you for wisdom.
Continued on page 2: Confront Emotions